Sunday, January 23, 2000
Iowans see through anti-immigrant propaganda
By Raul Yzaguirre
You can't fool the Iowans.
A series of political ads running in Iowa on the eve of next week's presidential caucuses has generated a storm of controversy. The ads feature the real-life town of Storm Lake, Iowa, where, an announcer gravely intones, "quality of life is but a memory." The ads show scenes of unemployed workers, closed businesses and chaotic classrooms. The alleged culprits: immigrants. The campaign is sponsored by a coalition of organizations spearheaded by an anti-immigrant group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
The ads aren't out of character for FAIR, but the response has been refreshing. "We deplore this propaganda campaign," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Bill Kruse, the superintendent of schools in Storm Lake, noted that schools were better, not worse, because of the city's increasing diversity. Kruse held a news conference with other city officials. They demanded an apology - and got a half-hearted one.
The leading presidential candidates have also been swift to condemn the campaign. Texas Gov. George W. Bush said that anti-immigrant forces reflected "the xenophobic, dark side of American politics." "There are people frightened by the thought of hard-working Hispanics coming to different places, but I think the hard-working Hispanics have enriched my state," Bush said. Vice President Al Gore joined Bush in denouncing the ads.
FAIR has been unmasked by Iowans themselves, who noted that the footage used in the ads was not filmed in Storm Lake.
Racial and ethnic diversity provides a wealth of opportunities for this country. According to Inc. magazine, in 1995, 12 percent of their "Inc. 500" - a list of the fastest-growing companies in America - were companies started by immigrants. And the De Tocqueville Institution, a research organization, indicates that, on a conservative estimate, one patent in five involves immigrants as a sole or co-inventor. And while a growing population and changing demographics can present challenges to some communities, the hopeful note from Iowa suggests that we are ready to tackle these issues in a calm and rational manner that will ultimately benefit all Americans.
The people of Iowa and the leading presidential candidates can see past divisive and anti-immigrant tactics. This bodes well for the coming presidential election and, I hope, for the 21st century.
Raul Yzaguirre is president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Latino advocacy group. He can be reached at email@example.com, or by writing to Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main St., Madison, WI 53703.